Iida Tenya and Learning to Lose Control

Part of what makes an action scene captivating is when it feels spontaneous, as if anything could happen at any time. Although always carefully orchestrated, it feels like there’s a lack of control in what’s portrayed. That kind of realism can make shounen action scenes great and the absence can make them boring. The final confrontation with Stain in season two of Boku no Hero Academia captured that element: Midoriya and Todoroki, ace students who generally train in an environment where they can slowly learn to tune their powers, are out of control themselves as they teeter on the brink of death in fighting against a fearsome villain. And in fact, the entire confrontation is set on a foundation that lacked control when Iida initially confront Stain and becomes a victim after being unable to hold back his feelings of vengeance.

Iida’s failure in that moment has been staged from early in the arc. Throughout, we see more of a “real” side to him, something beyond the honesty and leadership qualities he usually exhibits—though perhaps it isn’t fair to describe his usual character as being fake. I’ve known people like Iida, and in fact, J. Michael Tatum, who voices him in the English dub, told @vintageinmyveins during Kumoricon that he shares similarities with the boy:

I felt like, “Oh yeah, I know this guy. He’s basically me in high school—he’s very energetic and really good. He’s very concerned about keeping everyone on the same page and making sure everyone is doing their best. He’s very much a mother hen, which makes him insufferable at times because he can’t let go of control. But he doesn’t want control to misuse it; he wants to make sure everyone is taken care of. He’s a good guy.”

I, on the other hand, felt a connection with the Iida that becomes bent on revenge. No, my “excellent” big brother wasn’t nearly killed by a villain who wanted to expose hypocrisy, but like Iida, I do get sometimes wrapped up in my bitterness. I do desire vengeful. I do become very angry. And I do have a problem with self-control.

I’ve mentioned this before, but my lack of self-control is perhaps the vice I most want to work on in my life. It’s the Fruit of the Spirit I least exhibit. When push comes to shove—and the push doesn’t have to be that hard—I often shove back with unusual ferocity. When people make me upset, my mind is set aflame in anger; with loved ones, words flow out as well, and they are not nice at all.

With Iida, he has real reason to be angry. His big brother is a good man and was both wrongly attacked by Stain and wrongfully accused as being a poor hero. But Iida knows better than anyone that he must fight for peace without prejudice, without bringing in these personal feelings. A hero must treat everyone the same and capture the villain without any personal agenda. But for an individual like Iida, who likes things “just so,” and who has so much of his identity and character wrapped up with following rules in an almost OCD-like fashion, when his worldview is challenged and torn asunder, and the control he loves is blown apart, he loses control himself. Almost like a physical transformation, Iida becomes that which he hates.

Oh, Iida, I know you all too well.

Iida loses control in full vengeance mode

Tatum also sees that the issue is within Iida—Stain brought out an already-existent problem and magnified it:

His challenge has always been to just learn to let go and trust everyone not to do what you want them to be able to do. So that’s been his daily challenge—to balance his helpful, good-natured tendencies with his not-so-helpful tendency to overthink things and to be controlling. But when it came to the Stain arc and he had to confront himself, Iida had to understand, “What I want to do here is not good; I just want to satisfy my own lust for revenge because of how much I love my brother.” And that’s something that I think surprised him.

I agree—I think Iida is surprised by how he acted. He still has that innocence, that purity which makes him so easy to root for. But like us all, there’s darkness in his heart, darkness in his soul. It can be scary to know that’s there.

In my own life, I’ve long desired to have control over everything around me. For someone who lacks self-control, that seems to me to be ironic, but as we can see with Iida, the two go hand in hand. I hate feeling uncomfortable, and controlling a situation helps me feel more at east. When I lose that control, well, I just lose it. And that switch happened most dramatically and most often when I had infants—I could not force my way to make everything alright or make myself into a good dad. I had to have patience in situation after situation, and unable to demonstrate as much, I would often fall apart.

What I didn’t know then, or what I refused to accept, was that I never really had control in the first place. I had shaped my life a certain way, and it was rarely for the best because I can only control so much. And when that control was lost, I lost—and that was no way to live. Ultimately, what I needed to do was the very opposite of what everything in me desired. I needed to lose control, to let go of the grip I so strongly held, and trust God with, well, everything, to place my faith in him and trust his promise that even so, even when I was uncomfortable, even if my world fell apart, he would still be there.

It’s a process, and years later, with my children now old enough themselves to watch Boku no Hero Academia, I’m still learning to have faith. But my mind at least now concedes that trusting God to take me through the valleys is much better than my own flawed plans to stay out of the valleys in the first place.

I think Iida gets a sense of that idea, too. In season three, when Bakugou is kidnapped by the League of Villains and a group of his fellow students decide to break the rules and launch their own rescue operation, Iida tells them they shouldn’t, before deciding to go ahead with the group to “keep an eye on them.” But I don’t think that’s the full truth—I think Iida’s heart overruled his mind, and he decided go with the more uncomfortable option, one that went against his typical need to be in control. And for people like Iida and me, those who can’t seem live life without intense structure and law—that is a victory, and it’s also and step in the direction of a life that’s scarier, but ultimately better.

Boku no Hero Academia can be streamed on Crunchyroll.

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